Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Sack of Rome and The Sun King moves to the Suburbs

May 6th, 1527 is the date of the infamous Sack of Rome. Most people think this took place during the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, made famous in the book by Edward Gibbon (p 158 in A Book of Ages). Actually, the Empire collapsed a thousand years earlier. This episode took place at the end of the Italian Renaissance. Michelangelo was living in Florence at the time and missed the whole thing. Three years later the greatest sculptor of the age, the painter of the Sistine Chapel frescoes, was employed designing fortifications. He was 55. Times change and we take the jobs we can get. Michelangelo appears on pages 87, 118, 135, 199, 209, 227, 250, 251, 256 and 278 in A Book of Ages.

On May 6, 1682 Louis XIV, the Sun King, moved to the suburbs. He was 43, but by most accounts looked fabulous. Why the move? Was it was the crowds or the smells or the violence? Ennui? Probably a combination. In any case, he'd had a little bijou residence thrown up in a rural hamlet called Versailles, and it it was from there that French monarchs ruled tastefully until the Revolution came along a century later and ruined everything.

The neat trick about Versailles was how it kept the aristocracy entirely dependent on the king. This hothouse world is the one seen through the eyes and machinations of Madame de Pompadour, whose rise and fall is chronicled on pages 20, 39, 73 and 100 in A Book of Ages. (Louis XIV only appears twice. Vive la femme.)

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